Introduction: Why do so many care so little?
“… A friend of the worst sort of sinners.” (Matthew 11:19b)
Jesus befriended outcasts, healed lepers, and gave hope to broken souls. He made it very clear his followers were to love people in need – the hungry, homeless, ill-clothed, sick, and imprisoned.
Generations of passionate disciples took the good news of the Kingdom into the darkest nooks and crannies of the world, near and far. They put their lives on the line to help the poor, establish justice for slaves and women, build schools and hospitals, and take the gospel of salvation through Jesus to people who had never heard.
In the West, we have seen, in more recent years, periods of Great Awakening that inspired people to lay aside their lives and endure great hardship – even die – for the cause of advancing God’s Kingdom.
But something has happened.
Great cathedrals now draw only curious tourists. Wealthy Christian institutions minimize risk and carefully monitor investments to maximize return. Aging congregations gather wearily for routine activities. Enthusiastic crowds celebrate salvation for an hour, then go back to living their own lives for another 167.
Meanwhile desperate parents sell their children to traffickers. Babies die from bug bites or bad water. Young men turn to crime because they see no other path to prosperity. Single young mothers despair of giving their children hope for the future. Our sisters in distant lands are raped and our brothers slaughtered simply because they bear the name ‘Christian.’ Vast multitudes across the globe eke out a meager existence without any hope for this life or the next.
And millions of Christians give only the tiniest fraction of their treasure for benevolence – and even less of their time and talent. We go blithely about our own business, preoccupied with our own problems, as if the plight of others has nothing to do with us. We place greater value on our own well-being and reputation than on personally taking the light of God’s saving love into the world’s dark corners.
What has happened that so many of us care so little for the poor and oppressed? Why do we so resist getting close to the lost and the broken and helping them fight their way to the freedom God created them to enjoy?
Who among us would the whisperers label “a friend of the worst sort of sinners”?
The Gospel has always spread most powerfully among the poor, outcast, and oppressed. However, when Christians in the West began to benefit from growing wealth and comfort, we forgot the Lord’s admonition to Israelites entering the Land of Promise: “Beware that in your plenty you do not forget the Lord your God and disobey his commands, regulations, and laws.”
I have read too many Bible passages that I never hear us talk about. Puzzling, discomforting passages that would get a pastor fired if he were to so much as mention them. Passages that demand we count the cost of subverting evil and pursue the Kingdom above our own needs. Passages that warn us we cannot be complacent about injustice and still think we will be welcomed into the New Jerusalem.
I want to see more of us – myself especially – embrace an authentically self-denying, other-loving faith that deliberately sets out to transform individual lives and entire communities. I want us to recover a biblical passion for Kingdom justice that frees the poor and oppressed. I want to see rank-and-file believers getting their hands dirty in service to others, practicing spiritual disciplines, and living counter-culturally holy lives.
I want all of us to experience such profound life-change that we cannot help but tell others, near and far, the good news that God offers us new lives – not only eternal in the next life, but abundant in this one.
I want us to understand why so many of us care so little about people in need.
There are, no doubt, many factors that contribute to our complacency. I want to suggest a root cause: People haven’t actually been told the whole story about what it means to be saved. Perhaps a fragmentary understanding of the Gospel gives people false assurance about salvation and leaves them vulnerable to complacency. Perhaps we have divorced the teaching of Jesus and Paul from the Hebrew witness about redemption of souls in captivity. Perhaps we are in captivity to our culture in ways that make us think “doing justice” has nothing to do with the Gospel and salvation.
That, at least, is where I have found myself. If even part of what I’ve said above is true, finding a more biblical understanding of redemption and mission is essential for the spiritual health of congregations and individual believers, not to mention advancing the Kingdom of God. I won’t pretend to understand much about any of this, except that many of us don’t realize we are in deep trouble when it comes to salvation.
So, read and ponder. Listen to the Spirit and decide for yourself.
It only matters if you want to be saved.
Think about it
Why are some Christians complacent about the needs of the poor and oppressed?
Why do you think we are reluctant to get personally involved in helping lost and broken souls make new lives for themselves?
LoveLoud in New Orleans
Sue Yocum thought the man was crazy. He had approached her in Washington Square Park during one of her daily strolls with her daughter, Lena, who was only seven months old. “Your baby is very pretty,” the man had said. The proud mother thanked him, but his next comment took her by surprise. “Can I buy her?” he asked. Click here to read more.
Next chapter: The journey begins ‘in the beginning’